Nikki Haley, the former Republican governor of South Carolina and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, announced her 2024 presidential bid Tuesday, becoming the first prominent Republican to challenge her former boss, former President Donald Trump.
Haley has a history of successfully courting donors, outspending her opponents in four out of five statewide electoral victories as well as fundraising through her political nonprofit and leadership PAC.
Two years ago, Haley told the Associated Press that she wouldn’t run for president if Trump did. Nonetheless, Haley began teasing a run shortly after Trump launched his campaign in November of 2022.
In an announcement video, Haley emphasized her background as governor and attacked the “socialist left.”
“Joe Biden’s record is abysmal. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Washington establishment has failed us over and over and over again. It’s time for a new generation of leadership to rediscover fiscal responsibility, secure our border and strengthen our country, our pride and our purpose,” she says in the video.
Haley took a similar tack at her campaign’s formal launch event on Wednesday, painting herself as part of a “new generation” of leaders.
While Haley has yet to criticize Trump or anyone in her own party directly, she called for a “mandatory mental competency test” for politicians over 75 years — a contingent that includes Trump, who is 76, and Biden, who is 80.
“America is not past our prime, it’s just that our politicians are past theirs,” she said at the South Carolina event.
Haley’s undefeated political career
Haley began her political career in the South Carolina state House of Representatives, when she outearned and defeated incumbent state Rep. Larry Koon in the 87th district’s 2004 Republican primary and ran unopposed in the general election. She won reelection unopposed in 2006. In 2008, she defeated Democratic challenger Edgar Gomez with 83% of the vote and about $166,000 in campaign contributions — 64 times more than her opponent.
In 2010, Haley defeated Democrat Vince Sheheen to become the first female governor of South Carolina. Despite being outspent for the first and only time in her career — raising $4 million to Sheheen’s $4.6 million — Haley won by 4.5 percentage points with 51.4% of the vote.
Haley and Sheheen had a rematch in 2014. This time, Haley raised $8.4 million, more than double Sheheen’s $3.6 million. She won with a 14.5 percentage point margin and 55.9% of the vote.
Haley resigned two years into her four-year term to serve as the Trump administration’s U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
In April 2019, she joined Boeing’s board of directors after maintaining a close relationship with the company during her political career. As South Carolina’s governor, Haley signed legislation that provided Boeing with a $120 million incentive package to expand in the state. She also urged Boeing employees to vote against unionization through radio ads and social media posts in 2015.
Haley resigned from the board of directors in March 2020 after disagreeing with Boeing’s decision to seek federal relief amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Haley spent 2022 fundraising through her leadership PAC
Haley’s leadership PAC Stand for America poured more than half of the $15.6 million it spent during the 2022 election into fundraising.
While Haley spoke out against Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, at least $145,000 of the roughly $341,000 in contributions from her leadership PAC during the 2022 election went to Republican candidates who, according to the Washington Post, have “denied or questioned the outcome” of the 2020 election.
The Stand for America leadership PAC reported $2 million in the bank at the end of the 2022 election cycle. Haley won’t be able to use those funds for her presidential bid, but notable GOP megadonors – including Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus – are among the top contributors, meaning she could have some powerful donors in her corner.
Haley’s political nonprofit of the same name has also raised substantial funds. The Stand for America nonprofit — which, unlike the leadership PAC, does not have to disclose its donors — raised more than $25 million between its launch and the end of 2021, a new OpenSecrets analysis of tax records found.
The nonprofit raised $8.6 million in 2021 and ended the year with about $2.8 million in assets, according to its most recent tax return obtained by OpenSecrets.
While the nonprofit is not required to disclose its donors, an unredacted copy of its 2019 donor list was obtained by POLITICO last year. The tax record revealed that Haley’s nonprofit received money from at least 71 donors totaling over $7.8 million during its first year of operation.
The nonprofit’s top 2019 donors included Clover Health CEO Vivek Garipalli and his mother, Lakshmi Garipalli. Garipalli typically donates to Democrats but has had a “long standing personal friendship” with Haley since 2012. The mother and son contributed a total of $1 million in 2019.
Billionaire Miriam Adelson and her late husband Sheldon Adelson, who donated a total of $500,000, were also among the group’s top donors. Dubbed a “GOP kingmaker,” Adelson and his wife were record-breaking donors to conservative causes for the last three decades.
Haley was also reportedly one of six potential presidential candidates invited to a donor retreat hosted by the influential conservative group Club for Growth in March. Other invitees include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. The influential group notably did not invite Trump to the retreat one day after the Koch political network announced it would back a GOP alternative to the former president in the Republican presidential primary.
Billionaire Charles Koch, who founded Americans for Prosperity with his late brother David Koch, previously contributed $3,500 to Haley’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign. Koch Industries kicked in another $3,500, as did Charles Koch’s wife and son.
Late last month, the executive director of Haley’s advocacy group left her team to join Pence’s political nonprofit, Advancing American Freedom. This might add fuel to a reported rivalry between the two. Rumors of Haley vying to push Pence out of the vice presidency were dispelled by Haley in 2019, though tension and distrust reportedly remained between the two Republicans.
Pence has not officially announced his 2024 candidacy yet, but he’s left the door open. He told CBS News that “the only thing we’ve decided for sure is that we weren’t going to let anyone else make our decision for us.”
Haley’s ethics scandals
Haley has faced scrutiny in several ethics scandals over the course of her political career.
While U.N. ambassador, Haley disclosed that she had been gifted seven free flights for her and her husband from three South Carolina businessmen as well as NBA tickets valued at $20,000 from top donor Vivek Garipalli.
Government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with the Department of State, alleging that Haley did not prove that the flights make “the personal relationship exception” for gifts and that she ought to be investigated. The complaint was filed on Oct. 8, 2018, and Haley announced her resignation the next day, though Trump said her exit was planned months prior. No investigation was announced, and CREW told OpenSecrets that they did not receive a response to their request.
In 2012, Haley was investigated by the Republican-led South Carolina House of Representatives for allegedly lobbying for an engineering firm and a hospital foundation during her time as a legislator. Haley was employed by both groups and both had a need for state support. The hospital was seeking approval for an expansion and the firm was seeking a state contract. Haley maintained her innocence and was cleared of all wrongdoing in June 2012.
In 2013, Haley agreed to pay a fine levied by the South Carolina State Ethics Commission for failing to properly disclose information about eight donors to her first gubernatorial race.
Trump and Haley are the only two well-known Republicans to officially announce their presidential bids. Early last year, President Joe Biden indicated that he will seek reelection with Vice President Kamala Harris as his running mate, though he has not launched an official campaign.
Libertarian Chase Oliver, who prompted a runoff in the 2022 Georgia Senate race by capturing 2% of the vote, has launched a presidential exploratory committee.
Editorial and Investigations Manager Anna Massoglia contributed to this report.